What is the Best Hay for Guinea Pigs?

Hay for guinea pigs ensure a heathly pet guinea pig

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Hay is a vital component of a pet guinea pig’s diet – hay and water are the two essential elements for your guinea pig’s well-being. Hay is essential for healthy digestion and healthy teeth, and it also contains many nutrients essential for overall good health. But, not all hay is created equal — different types of hay contain different amounts of fiber and key nutrients. Learn more about the different types of hay for guinea pigs, and how to select the best hay for your pet.

The Benefits of Hay for Guinea Pigs

If you are the new owner of a pet guinea pig, you may not be aware of how important hay is in your guinea pig’s diet. Pet guinea pigs need to have unlimited access to fresh hay every day as it is essential for their health and well-being. Wild free-ranging guinea pigs have access to a variety of different plant types, and are able to graze ad-lib on grass, shoots, twigs and wild fruits, which not only provides them with a nutritionally balanced diet, but also ensures a healthy digestive system, and wears their teeth down to prevent them from becoming overgrown. Pet guinea pigs are limited to the diet that their owners provide them, and it is of utmost importance that this includes free access to hay.

Why Fiber is so Important in a Guinea Pig’s Diet

Guinea pigs require a highly fibrous diet, as roughage is essential to keep their digestive tract moving along smoothly to prevent any digestion problems. The best way to provide this essential roughage is to give your guinea pig unlimited access to hay every single day. Your piggy should be able to munch away on hay whenever he wants, and it should therefore be freely available all the time.

Guinea pig hay provides fiber

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The best hay for guinea pigs is a hay that is rich in fiber yet low in calories. Some hays contain too much protein and calcium, and are high in calories, which can cause health problems in pet guinea pigs. If your guinea pig consumes too many calories he can quickly become overweight, which is not healthy. While a diet high in calcium and protein may be good for pregnant and nursing guinea pigs, and for young guinea pigs that are still growing, it is generally unhealthy for adult guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are unable to metabolize the excess protein and calcium, and as a result bladder stones can form, which can be excruciatingly painful for your pet.

There are various types of hay for guinea pigs available on the market, but for adult guinea pigs timothy hay is the hay of choice. Timothy hay has a high fiber content, yet it is low in calcium and protein, and contains fewer calories that most other hay for guinea pigs. This doesn’t mean that it lacks the nutrients essential for your guinea pigs health – on the contrary – it contains all the beneficial nutrients, plus the essential fiber, without packing on the pounds or over-stressing the urinary system.

Dental Care

Guinea pigs are herbivores; in the wild they will have a wide variety of plant material available on which to graze, nibble and gnaw away on as they move freely throughout their home range. By grazing on course grass stems, the grinding action of their teeth causes their teeth to naturally wear down. Obviously, if their teeth wore down too much, they would have a problem as they wouldn’t be able to eat and would eventually starve to death. To prevent this from happening, guinea pigs have adapted by having teeth that are constantly growing.

Hay for guinea pigs helps wear teeth down

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Domestic guinea pigs have evolved from wild guinea pigs, and have retained this trait. However, if they don’t receive a fibrous diet their teeth will grow faster than they will wear down, which can cause painful sores in the mouth and difficulties eating and drinking, and can be fatal. To keep your piggy’s teeth from becoming overgrown it is very important that a suitable hay for guinea pigs forms a staple part of your pet’s daily diet.

Types of Guinea Pig Hay

There are two types of hay for guinea pigs:

  • Grass Hay – high in fiber, yet low in protein, calcium and calories
  • Legume Hay – high in protein, calcium and contains more calories, yet lower fiber content

Legume Hay

Legume hay contains more calcium, protein, and calories than grass hay, and contains less fiber. Clover hay and alfalfa hay are two of the more popularly available types of legume hay for guinea pigs, with alfalfa hay being the most popular of the two. While legume hay can be used to supplement an adult guinea pigs diet to provide a bit of variety, it should be fed in moderation. However, there may be occasions when your guinea pig could do with the extra calcium, protein or energy that legume hay provides.

When to Feed Legume Hay to Guinea Pigs

  • Pregnant and lactating guinea pigs require extra calcium and protein to ensure that their developing babies are supplied with these essential building blocks necessary for healthy development. They also need these extra nutrients to meet their own dietary needs to ensure that they maintain condition during this stressful phase, which can otherwise take a toll on their health.
  • Young, growing guinea pigs could benefit from the extra protein for growth and calcium to build healthy bones and teeth.
  • If your guinea pig is recovering from illness or injury, it may also benefit from the additional nutrients and calories that legume hay provides.

Grass Hay

Timothy hay for guinea pigs

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Grass hay is the hay of choice for an adult pet guinea pig, as it is high in fiber and low in protein. The course stems provide the necessary roughage that is so important for keeping your pet’s digestive system functioning efficiently, and will also prevent your guinea pig’s teeth from becoming overgrown, yet will supply the nutrients necessary to keep your pet in optimal health. Grass hay for guinea pigs is available in a number of different varieties, including: bermuda grass, oat hay, orchard grass, and timothy hay.

Timothy hay is the most widely available grass hay, and is also the most popular – for good reason. Not only is timothy hay high in fiber to keep your guinea pigs digestive system working effectively and prevent its teeth from growing too long, it is also high in essential minerals and nutrients that will keep your pet in peak condition.

However, it is not just the choice of hay that affects its quality and suitability as a guinea pig hay; the quality, and hence the nutritional value, of guinea pig hay is also largely determined by when it was harvested. Timothy hay is cultivated in spring, with the first harvest taking place in June. But, because farmers like to get their money’s worth from their labor and their land, the hay is often left to regrow and farmers will harvest a second- and possibly even a third cutting from this crop. However, after harvesting the first cutting of timothy hay, some farmers prefer to plant a different crop that may be more financially viable than waiting for the hay to grow out again and taking a second cutting. As a result, the first cutting of timothy hay is the most commonly available hay.

Characteristics of 1st, 2nd & 3rd Cutting Timothy Hay

  1. First Cutting Timothy Hay – the grass stems from the first harvest of timothy hay have a course texture and are high in fiber. While this is good for guinea pigs, they favor second or third cutting hay for its softer, more palatable leafy structure. They do, however, tend to relish the seed heads that are abundant on the first cutting, but the seed heads have far less nutritional value and fiber content than the stems.
  2. Second Cutting Timothy Hay – this is the hay that has been allowed to regrow after the first harvest. Second cutting hay contains more soft leafy content than the first cutting, it is more palatable and guinea pigs prefer it to the first cutting of hay. As second cutting hay contains fewer heads, guinea pigs focus their attention on the fibrous stems, which means they benefit from the fiber rather than being distracted by tasty seed heads that are low in fiber.
  3. Third Cutting Timothy Hay – this hay is a bit harder to come by than first or second cutting hay, and as it consists of soft, tender leaves, guinea pigs simply love it. While you can offer your pet this as a delicious treat every now and again, due to its very low fiber content and much higher protein content, it is not recommended as a staple food source for adult guinea pigs. However, young, growing guinea pigs could benefit from the additional protein, which is similar to legume hay, such as alfalfa.
Timothy hay for guinea pigs

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Origins of Timothy Hay

Timothy hay is derived from timothy-grass, which has been harvested and dried. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) is a perennial European grass that is indigenous to most countries in Europe, except those that have a Mediterranean climate. When early settlers arrived in the USA from Europe, they unintentionally carried timothy-grass seeds along with them. The seeds soon established themselves in suitable soils in the New-Hampshire region, where it soon caught the attention of farmers, who noticed that grazing livestock favored it over other grasses. Timothy-grass was first cultivated in 1720 by Timothy Hanson, a local rancher, who wanted to used it to provide hay forage for his livestock. And so, the grass was named in his honor, and that is how it got its name. Today timothy-grass is cultivated across much of USA and Canada where it is widely used as a staple forage hay for cattle and horses, and also to provide the dietary requirements of small critters, including rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs.

Timothy hay is derived from timothy-grass, which has been harvested and dried. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) is a perennial European grass that is indigenous to most countries in Europe, except those that have a Mediterranean climate. When early settlers arrived in the USA from Europe, they unintentionally carried timothy-grass seeds along with them. The seeds soon established themselves in suitable soils in the New-Hampshire region, where it soon caught the attention of farmers, who noticed that grazing livestock favored it over other grasses. Timothy-grass was first cultivated in 1720 by Timothy Hanson, a local rancher, who wanted to used it to provide hay forage for his livestock. And so, the grass was named in his honor, and that is how it got its name. Today timothy-grass is cultivated across much of USA and Canada where it is widely used as a staple forage hay for cattle and horses, and also to provide the dietary requirements of small critters, including rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs.

Guinea Pig Dietary Recommendations

The following dietary guidelines are recommended for adult guinea pigs to ensure that they receive a healthy, balanced diet to maintain optimal health and well-being:

  • Feed a staple diet of grass hay – preferably second cutting timothy hay.
  • Supplement this with high quality guinea pig pellets.
  • To ensure that your pet receives adequate amounts of vitamin C, which they cannot produce themselves, provide them with fresh fruit and vegetables in season.
  • Ensure that your guinea pig always has clean fresh water available.

Feed Me!

Include hay for guinea pigs in their diet

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Guinea pigs love their food. They literally sing for their supper, and will spend the whole day eating if they could. Unfortunately this can cause health problems, as while some foods may be good for your pet in moderation, most are not good for them in excess. The one exception to this rule is a high quality hay for guinea pigs that contains a rich source of fiber – they can eat as much as they like as it is highly beneficial and will cause no problems at all.

For your convenience, top quality fresh second cutting timothy hay for guinea pigs can be ordered online and delivered directly to your door. Imagine the delight on you guinea pig’s face when he gets a parcel of his favorite food delivered in the mail : )

Featured Image Credit: cranberry jacket, via Flickr

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